The factory of the future: Coca-Cola Enterprises sets out a vision for sustainable manufacturing

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

The F&B industry will make significant use of technology and big data, says Coca-Cola. Pic: iStock/alphaspirit
The F&B industry will make significant use of technology and big data, says Coca-Cola. Pic: iStock/alphaspirit

Related tags: Manufacturing

Emerging technology, big data, and innovations like smart labels and smart kitchens can help transform the food and drink industry for a sustainable future, according to a Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) report. 

A partnership between CCE and Cranfield University’s Sustainable Manufacturing Systems Centre has been mapping the challenges and opportunities in the food and drink manufacturing sector.

Drawing on the expertise of the university, senior industry figures and academic experts, the report sets out pathways for change and development.

“History has shown that those who are fully prepared to acknowledge and engage with the future shape and prospects of their sector will not only be better prepared to address challenges and reduce risks, but will also be able to capitalise on new business opportunities,” ​said Steve Adams, group director of supply chain operations for Coca-Cola Enterprises Great Britain.

He adds that there will be significant challenges for the sector, but pioneering companies will be critical in driving the industry forward.

Era of transformation

Given major challenges to the price and availability of resources, the industry is undergoing an era of transformation, says the report.

“For the food and drink industry to continue to serve the needs of society and to match, even lead, the expectations of customers and consumers it will have had to demonstrate major changes to its operations as it approaches 2050,” ​it warns.

“It is expected that the food and drink industry will make significant use of technology and big data to anticipate the future, to control the flow of nutrients, assure quality and relentlessly address resource productivity.”

Sustainable manufacturing is defined as the creation of manufactured products through economically-sound processes that minimize negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources. This is the definition set out by the US Department of Commerce’s Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative, and the one used by the CCE / Cranfield report.

Six themes were set out in the first phase of the partnership between CCE and Cranfield: big data, people, technology, value, collaboration, and resilience. These were published in a white paper in June 2015.

Released this week, the new report builds on these themes by identifying pathways for the future for the industry in Great Britain, as outlined below.

Anticipating the future:  Using emerging technology and big data to provide real-time visibility of the supply chain.

As technology develops, the Internet of Things [or internet of everything] has led to an information explosion, with more and more data being collected every day, hour, minute and second. This data can illuminate manufacturing processes in previously impossible ways, revealing the opportunities to reduce society’s environmental impact.

“Business decision-makers strive to ‘do the right thing’ for the environment and the visibility provided by big data will give manufacturers greater confidence that their process means a ‘win-win-win’ for their business, the supply chain and the environment,” ​says the report.

For example, parts of the food chain will operate without human intervention in the future.There will be ‘smart tags’ on food products, and ‘smart kitchens’ that can manage food available and reduce waste. Sensing technology can monitor farms in real-time, keeping land operating at maximum productivity.

Providing nutrition: meeting consumers’ nutritional needs using local sources.

“New concerns are being raised about our food, from ethical questions about clear labeling, to an increased desire for organic produce and worries about animal welfare. In the future product ingredients will be examined ever more closely, and industry will be held responsible,” ​observes the report.

“Given the pressures on global food supply, industry and society will focus on resilience and become increasingly vigilant about food over-supply and food waste. We are moving into an era in which society values the collective good but it also expects personalisation of goods.”

The report points to the emergence of ‘smart ingredients’ that have the potential to replace other ingredients (for example, the zero calorie natural sweetener stevia).

Sharing the benefits:  Working with customers and society to create new products & services.

“Over the last 10-20 years there has been a real shift toward collaboration when it comes to transportation, entertainment and accommodation. Industry too is now sharing across sectors and organisations – for example several automotive manufacturers have shared intellectual property to help advance the industry rather than just retaining knowledge within their own organisation,” ​says the report.

The importance of collaboration

“Over the last 10-20 years there has been a real shift toward collaboration,” says the report. “This would have been unthinkable a decade ago, but will continue as a trend in the future.”

“This would have been unthinkable a decade ago, but will continue as a trend in the future.”

For example, more companies will share intellectual property in the future, particularly when it comes to protecting the environment or contributing to long term sustainability, predicts the report.

Inspiring the next generation:  Stimulating new thinking and new skills to tackle the major challenges facing society.

The report sees a future where manufacturers will need to invest more than ever in developing and attracting highly skilled, innovative and tech literate employees.

“A highly skilled, ethics-led workforce will be required in the future to maintain financial competitiveness, as well as address the pressing need to change the way we use the Earth’s resources.

“With growing automation of both hard production technology and soft information technology, fewer people will be developing, managing and improving complex businesses. However, there are still exciting opportunities to work within the food and drink sector to ensure we deliver nutritious, trustworthy and sustainable products.”

Joining forces: Taking a ‘big picture’ view of the complex issues to enable society to reduce its impact and retain valuable resources.

“The research envisages the food and drink industry of the future as having a positive impact on the environment and serving wider society. The concept of ‘loyalty’ has to extend beyond a company, into the supply chain and to further connect with consumers and promote the value of resources,”​ says the report.

The report is titled 'Sustainable manufacturing for the future: The journey to 2050: research on the vision and pathways for sustainability in the food and drink industry in Great Britain.' Download​ the report here. 

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